December 28, 2021
"Thank you for giving us the way that we can reach our peers who will never step foot in a church. You're giving us the way to share the same message...and they will listen."
~ Michelle Miranda, Nicaragua (center above)
It was June of 2004, Ignite International's second team overall, and our first to Nicaragua. It was the first volleyball group to EVER visit Nicaragua from the USA, a small group to fulfill the promise I had made to Mama Nubia Baltodano a year prior. "I will bring athletes and we will help you take your city and your nation." Although I could certainly see the vision and I knew it was big - I had no idea then how God was going to use Ignite International in Nicaragua and a dozen nations.

The individual impact on person after person after person after person.

By the thousands. Amazing.

Sidebar: If you've ever heard me tell stories of Nicaragua (or anywhere for that matter), you should understand that woven between what I tell, there are volumes of deeply moving personal stories NEVER told because I will not be that person who shares other people's "stuff" in the name of "updates" or "newsletters". And most certainly will not as a "prayer request" (palatable word for gossip in the American church) or to raise donations, though these stories would. My conviction has always remained firm - private is private whether "they" would ever know or not. Integrity is integrity. Trust matters. Hearts are not products to be sold. Personal journeys are not marketing props. I'll leave it to others to feel ok doing that. Not Ignite.

We only had 5 in that first group, so the Nicaragua National Team "loaned" us three players. Michelle who is #3 above was among them. She was the setter and an educator - hilariously fun, a laugh that is larger than life, and a smile that never ends. She was favorite!

Michelle played with us, translated for us, made sure we knew everything we should and should not do - these were in our "B.C." days which seem nearly impossible to remember sometimes. "BC" being "Before Claudia" Baltodano became my voice, right arm, half my brain, GPS, external hard drive, and truly an extension of me to the people of this nation we love. But before Claudia was Michelle.

Nearing the end of the trip, Lacey's (#23) passport fell out of her bag at a gas station. She discovered this the night before we were to return to the USA that Sunday. Suffice it to say Lacey and I stayed 4 more days until Thursday while a new passport was processed for her in the USA and delivered to the Embassy in Managua.

Being post-9/11 everything had to be processed in the USA, nothing was done on-site at local embassies, so we waited. And it was in that four days, Michelle spent as much time with us as she could. Lacey and I hung out at the mall most days "taste-testing" every dessert in the display case at the Casa Del Cafe at Metro Centro, the largest mall at that time in Managua. National Team players would come and meet us at the Arcade to play air hockey, we took them to dinner at TGI Fridays or other places, and Lacey trained with the national team each evening. This is how our relationship with the Nicaragua National Volleyball Federation and National Team began. Michelle translated, laughed, and clearly enjoyed being part of the mix!

The passport came and we were to depart to the USA Thursday. We invited Michelle to join us Wednesday evening at Iglesia Mundo De Fe near the airport where Pastors Ralph and Donna Holland were visiting to speak that night. As Pastor Ralph closed his message with an invitation to receive Christ, Michelle was among those who (with no hesitation) walked to the front of the sanctuary, and in moments her life and eternity changed forever. Lacey and I cried at our row as we knew what had just taken place in the fulfillment of the purpose of a lost passport. We knew we had just been "ignite" something and someone incredible.

In 2005 and 2006, Michelle translated for us, we stayed in close contact via email. She was young, both in maturity and faith, and made her share of decisions accordingly which led to a gap in communication for a period of time. But the love ran deep and we never stopped praying for her. Never stopped believing in the impact she would eventually have.

Jump forward to 2017 - Michelle has now been serving in leadership for quite a while at the church founded by our dear friends, Pastors Dave and Claudia Albrecht, who remained close to Michelle, discipling her through her growing years. Michelle continued teaching English, and she was PASSIONATE about reaching the youth, young adults, and athletes in Nicaragua. PASSIONATE!! "Larger than life"!!
That year, 2017, Michelle made time to serve with every team we had in Nicaragua. It was a wonderfully busy summer for us and Michelle was right there serving at Ancianos Coronados, the ministry providing food for the elderly. She translated for me at the Donna Holland School so that Claudia could focus on her role as director, and I smiled inside the entire time as she communicated the words I spoke with such deep passion for the youth.

One day, Claudia had a conflicting obligation to attend to, so Michelle jumped right in and covered our translating needs for the day. And as only Michelle could do, with the greatest of intentions, she completely blundered the pizza order for our lunch. In true Michelle fashion, she ordered "larger than life" and we ended up with an entire seat in the bus stacked to the top with extra pizzas, 13 extra family-size pizzas to be exact....and about a $600 lunch bill which to this day she never knew the cost of that mistake. "y mas pizza" ("and more pizza) is an ongoing joke among the national team leadership and a phrase we add to many of our conversations just to say "and much more".

When I returned in December for the Central America Games, Michelle and I spent time together and she faithfully (and with verbose intensity) supported her National Team from the stands directly across the court from the team bench. She had her entire section yelling at every play, cheering on this generation of national team athletes, supporting the coaches, and letting the officials know when she (and those around her) didn't like a call. Michelle did EVERYTHING with ALL of her.
As the situation politically erupted in April of 2018, which has greatly impacted Ignite on many levels, I began to discuss with Michelle in-depth the curriculum and mentorship program we are preparing IN Nicaragua - led by elite national athletes and educators to reach the youth and young adults of the nation. She was ALL ABOUT IT and eager to be one of our key leaders for this program - a decorated athlete herself and formerly on their national team, an educator, and a deeply committed woman of God who shares our heartbeat to "ignite Hope" for those who will likely never discover it outside of a spark delivered through relevant relationships. Michelle understands more than most people the impact of Ignite. She IS Ignite.

Michelle and I chatted often about this program via WhatsApp and/or Messenger. Her quote above came in one of our conversations as she and other leaders affirmed the need for this program.

In 2022, this program WILL begin in Nicaragua and will be piloted in the USA, imparting the six Ignite core values through peer-to-peer mentorship, curriculum, and a language understood and through those who understand:

Integrity | Greatness | Non-negotiables | Influence | Trust | Excellence
CHRISTMAS NIGHT I went to bed early to get an early jump the next day, driving to visit a best friend from college. Before falling asleep I happened to look at my phone once more and saw a message waiting from Claudia Baltodano with the news that moments earlier, Michelle had been declared deceased from injuries sustained in a car accident. Together we spent the next couple hours sending messages to the National Team leadership, to teammates here in the USA to share the news that Michelle is now with the First Love whom she served so well. Claudia made the difficult phone calls, even as she and her sister Danelia rushed to the scene of the accident near their home, and kept me updated in real-time. My ever faithful voice and right arm - always present. Thank you, Claudisima.

To say the Nicaragua National Team and Volleyball Community are heartbroken would be the understatement of the century. We share in this.

Michelle Miranda is the true and total representation of why we do what we do.

"Ignite generational cycles of hope one life at a time
through the universal language of sport."

Michelle's legacy will be interwoven throughout our I Am Ignite mentorship program, and her journey of Eternal Hope and Salvation will reach the masses she desired.

Would you pray with us for comfort and healing in this tragic time - for her family, for Iglesia Elevate and our friends Pastors Dave & Claudia and their leadership team, for Michelle's students/colleagues/friends, and of course for OUR Nicas - the volleyball family who is truly heartbroken by this loss on earth. Heaven's gain.
2022 - What's Ahead?
Simple! GET IT DONE!!

In 2020 we laid out a three-year plan with great goals to accomplish by May 19, 2023, the 20th anniversary of Ignite International.

Thanks go COVID none of those will happen by this date....but our vision is bigger, our conviction deeper, our clarity solid and our roadmap precise.

2022 is not the year to checkboxes by "May 19, 2023". Rather, 2022 is the year to PREPARE for what BEGINS at the 20th anniversary. To do this year the things I wish I would have known in 2002 to do before ever starting. Ignite has a massive mandate - and we WILL fulfill it. 2022 is the year to be fully prepared:

  • A FULLY and ACTIVELY engaged Board of Directors
  • A FULLY established and active Advisory Team
  • Curricula are written and pilot launched
  • Comprehensive Vision, long and short-term, established
  • By-laws and Articles of Incorporation Updated with Texas and IRS
  • "Ignite 2.0" promotion SET and DONE.
  • Ignite U1 team will be nationwide
  • Ignite U1 workshops and Ignite programs still TBA will be activated.
  • Ignite International WILL BE FULLY FUNDED by December 31, 2022.

There are millions of Lori Wynns in this world who need to know they are WYNNERS.
There are millions of Alex Flemings in this world whose dreams need validation.
There are millions of Michelle Mirandas in this world who are passionate about sharing with others the hope they have found and need the platform to do so.

While we honor each of these in their passing, we embrace the mandate on us to PROVIDE the platform that connects extreme overcomers with those striving to overcome so they can discover Hope in a language understood and through those who understand.

To Michelle I say - rest in His peace until we meet again in Eternity, Friend. I'm beyond sure you are making all of Heaven laugh now. You touched many, and we will ensure your legacy reaches many more. We WILL reach your peers, and your leadership WILL carry on though your physical presence is no longer here.

To You, our monthly readers I would ask, as you consider your end-of-year giving options, would you join us in honoring Michelle's life with a donation that can position us toward launching the mentorship program she was helping establish? The harvest is RIPE and PLENTIFUL and HIS for the Michelle said, we have the way to reach those who won't discover His Hope through any other means.

Would you help us ignite hope for their hearts?
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